Evan J Cartwright - bit by bit (Album Review)

Birds and bells sound for different reasons. Where birds sing for territorial and nesting purposes, bells knell for the passing of time. Yet they are both auditory fixtures of our human existence, sound symbolisms conjuring up memories and cultural experiences. The melody of birds and rhythm of bells orchestrate daily life around the globe, and on his debut album "bit by bit", Torontonian Evan J Cartwright decorates his sensitive and jazzy balladry with field recordings of birds and bells to stunning effect. Cartwright, a drummer and collaborator for acts such as The Weather Station and Brodie West, reveals himself to be a songwriter of restrained depth and a sonically explorative artist across the album's sequentially uninterrupted 11 tracks. 

After a brief intro, 'walk u through it', featuring Ambroise and Lune Très Belle, is a whimsical number with unpredictable vocals and gorgeous wind instrumentation. 'she's a bird' sees an ominous drone bellow underneath a gentle and precise execution of guitar and voice. The song never seems to rest on one branch, preferring to jump from one to another in an alluring acoustic spew a la The Books or Gastr del Sol. 

"Come again to this place, it is a place of earthly things." Cartwright sings before birdsong, cymbals, and erratic snare hits close. 'i DON'T know' is a dreamy ballad, with an inebriated vocal melody gushing over swelling strings and belching cellos, interrupted by glitching tones of a telephone dial morphing into a drone. 'or a bell' is a saccharine, lo-fidelity romantic track which showcases Cartwright's jazz sensibilities. His voice, sung as though not to upset sleeping neighbours, has an air of Jeff Buckley in its readiness to explore the scale and Chet Baker in its personable coffee house romance. This same approach is used on the tremendous album highlight "and you've got nobuddy", a track of childlike abandon, with Cartwright proclaiming, "I always had it in my mind that life was kidding this whole time" against roaming finger-picked guitar. 

'more! says the heart, breaking' is an admirable turn to experimental spoken word sound art ("See yourself reflected in the sea") that only somewhat feels like waffle. The closing title track is a transportive, eight-minute organ piece neatly embellished with field recordings. These field recordings, the low-key acoustic guitar finding bewitching chords, the mournful and carefully placed strings, and the singular, expressive, and capricious voice help this oddball collection of experiments and candid songwriting tickle pink. "bit by bit" is an absorbing and romantically quirky listen.


Evan J Cartwright - bit by bit (Album Review)
Reviewed by Jay Honeycomb on April 19th 2022
Rating: 4